Matthew Aiello-Lammens Ecologist at Work

Peer review and Publons

I like doing peer reviews. It makes me feel like an active member of a community of scientists. Over the last year, I’ve probably averaged one a month, which seems like a pretty ok number. (It’s definitely more than I’ve published, for what it’s worth.) I’ve asked around, and it seems that by some standards this is a lot and by others its pretty modest. In any case, it’s what I’ve been doing.

Now, every time I do a review, I go through a little dilemma of whether to sign it or not. I feel like it’s pretty important to be open, and I never write reviews that I would be concerned if the authors did identify me. Not all of the manuscripts I’ve reviewed have been accepted, but to be honest, I can’t recall suggesting that any of them be rejected out right. This may be because I have yet to receive a manuscript to review that I really believed was irreparable, or couldn’t be shaped into a good contribution. Or perhaps it’s because I’m just to nice. Whatever the case, I like to think that I offer good criticisms and comments, and that I help the authors to make a strong paper. But still, there are times that I flinch, and submit without signing. I think as I gain more confidence and knowledge this will fade away, but we’ll have to wait and see.

With all of this in mind, I was intrigued when I recently got an email about a service called Publons. Essentially, Publons is a way to make public your involvement in the peer review process. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make public the content of your reviews, though that is an option, but it is a way to show that you’ve done reviews for various publications. If you do elect to make public the content of your review, or if you submit a post-publication review, it seems that there is a way for others to cite your contribution as well. I was sufficiently intrigued to make an account and go through the process of adding a few reviews, though not to make them open at this point. A have few random thoughts on this kicking around in my head:

  • It seems really promising to have a formal way to see open reviews (sensu what is done at PeerJ and soon PLoS ONE).
  • I’m curious to see if post-publication reviews take off. When I was at Stony Brook I really enjoyed following Faculty of 1000, so I think it could be great.
  • I can’t help but wonder what the business model for Publons is? How are they going to stay afloat and pay bills? I don’t really see them having a lot of valuable information to sell to marketing firms.
  • Oh my! How do some people have time to do 1000s of reviews a year! That’s crazy.